Career Test for the Soul, Step 2.

Tracking Your Life Stage Progression

Many contemporary social scientists, notably Erik Erikson and Daniel Levinson, have conducted research and identified specific developmental stages through which most people pass in their life's journey. Based on this well developed body of literature and on our own research, we have developed an exercise that invites you to review the issues and characteristics of typical life stage progression and evaluate where you are.

Three Free
Career - Personality Assessments
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It's helpful to know what some of these stages are so that when we pass through them we can be aware of what's happening and know that it's normal. Since our focus here is on careers, our exercise works with six stages of adult career development that we have synthesized from the work of many who have studied the adult growth process.

These stages carry us from our late teens to post retirement. The ages shown for each stage are only rough estimates. People may pass through the stages several years earlier or later than the estimates shown. Individuals vary widely in their progression through the stages.

Addressed with the right mindset these are stages of personal growth. The movement through the stages is a progression. At each stage we tend to reassess and re-balance our life values priorities. As we pass from one stage to the next, often with some difficult periods of transition, we learn and mature in the process. If we acknowledge and work through the issues of each successive stage we become better human and spiritual beings.

For a more in-depth understanding, start with the free chapter "Tracking Your Life Stage Progression" on the Your Soul at Work web site. Beyond that, we recommend the writings of Erikson, Levinson, Groeschel, Fowler, and others who describe the process in more detail.

We suggest you read the extended definitions of the Stages listed below before you begin the exercise. You can also print them out so you can have them in front of you while you work.

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Definitions for Life Stages Assessment

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Stage 1. Autonomy and Tentative Choices (Approximately 18-26)

In this stage we are typically developing personal autonomy and leaving the family to establish an independent home, finances etc. We're developing our own sense of personhood as separate from parents and childhood peer groups. We try out new relationships (e.g., romantic interests, professional associates, peer groups and friends). This is typically a period of tentative or provisional commitments. We're comfortable there is plenty of time ahead to change our minds on provisional decisions concerning things like location, occupation, plans to marry or not marry, friends, key life values, etc. Our focus is on defining ourselves as individuals and establishing an initial life structure.

Stage 2. Young Adult Transition (Approximately 27-31)

This is usually a period of significant turmoil - of looking at who we are becoming and asking if we're really journeying in directions we want to go. We question most of our earlier tentative choices. Have we made the right decisions? Are we running out of time for changing our decisions? Are our decisions becoming permanent before we want them to? Do we really want to make this location, career path or romantic relationship permanent? Will we or will we not settle down and have a family? Is time running out? Often with considerable angst similar to the better known mid-life crisis we rethink our provisional decisions and maintain them or change them in the process of making more permanent choices.

Stage 3. Making Commitments (Approximately 32-42)

This is typically a period of relative order and stability where we implement and live the choices made in the young adult transition. We settle down into deeper commitments involving work, family, church, our community ties etc. We focus on accomplishment, becoming our own persons and generating an inner sense of expertise and mastery of our professions. By now we have a better developed and fairly well defined, though not usually final, dream of what we want to achieve in life. We put significant energy into achieving the dream.

Stage 4. Mid-Life Transition (Approximately 42-48)

This is the stage of mid-life questioning that's been discussed so much in the popular press. Here we tend to question everything again. If we have not achieved our dreams we wonder why not. Were they really the right dreams? If we have achieved our dreams we look at what values we might have neglected in their pursuit. Was it worth it? Either way we're probably disillusioned. A period of reassessment and realignment usually takes place, including recognition and re-balancing of key polarities, such as:

Immortality vs. Mortality - While young people know better intellectually, emotionally they seem to feel they are immortal. In mid-life we start to realize it may be half over and we want to make the best of what remains. This typically requires some revision of priorities and values - perhaps less emphasis on values already achieved and more emphasis on those we have neglected.

Constructive vs. Destructive - Up to mid-life, most of us fool ourselves that our behavior has been constructive while we had to deal with others' destructive behavior. In mid-life we get the uncomfortable insight that we have also engaged in our share of destructive as well as constructive behavior. This insight is painful but essential if we want to continue growing intellectually and spiritually.

Nurturing vs. Aggressive - Whether we have focused on aggressive (e.g., fast track corporate careers) or nurturing (e.g., teaching, social work, or homemaking) behavior to date, in mid-life we often want to re-balance. Some aggressive corporate people want to spend more time nurturing with their families or in socially oriented work, and some who have been in more service-oriented nurturing careers want to pursue something more aggressive or financially rewarding.

The experts stress that acknowledging the turmoil, experiencing the pain, and facing and resolving the polarities is essential for continued growth and satisfaction. Refusing to acknowledge or experience mid-life anxieties and questions—or at some unconscious level trying to go back and be twenty again—is usually a sure way to get stuck and disgruntled in a way station.

Stage 5. Leaving a Legacy (Approximately 49-65)

The period after completion of the mid-life transition can be one of the most productive of all stages. We are usually at the peak of our mature abilities here. If the issues of the mid-life transition have been acknowledged and addressed we can make our greatest possible contributions to others and society. Here we can be less driven, less ego-centered, less compelled to compete with and impress others. Instead we can focus on what really matters to us, on developing younger people, on community with others, on leaving some personal legacy that really makes things better for people (whether it's recognized as our personal legacy or not), and on accomplishing values that our maturity and greater spirituality tell us have the most true meaning in the overall scheme of life.

Stage 6. Spiritual Denouement (Approximately 66 and Beyond)

This is the stage of tying things up, of completing the design of what we want to become, of finalizing our growth and assessing/fine-tuning the persons we have made of ourselves. This stage can go on for many years. It can be hopeful or cynical depending on how realistically, humbly, and effectively we have resolved (or now finally resolve) the issues faced in earlier stages. We may move into this stage sooner or later depending on how rapidly we have developed in earlier stages - how much we have moved beyond our narrow selves. Here we come to grips with the ultimate limitations of life, ourselves and mortality. We can look hopefully and unflinchingly at the ultimate meaning of our life and the life of others in the larger context. We do the best we can to pass whatever wisdom we have gained on to others. We accept others for what they are, seeing them as growing like we are and part of humankind's diversity. Our sense of community continually expands as we prepare for survival of the spirit beyond our mortality.

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Career Test for the Soul  •  •  based on Your Soul at Work
Copyright 2002, Nicholas Weiler